Monday, November 16, 2020

Two New Books on the Eusebian Canons

I recently published a very brief review of Matthew Crawford’s book, The Eusebian Canon Tables: Ordering Textual Knowledge in Late Antiquity (OUP, 2019).

Here is the Publisher’s Description:  

One of the books most central to late-antique religious life was the four-gospel codex, containing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A common feature in such manuscripts was a marginal cross-referencing system known as the Canon Tables. This reading aid was invented in the early fourth century by Eusebius of Caesarea and represented a milestone achievement both in the history of the book and in the scholarly study of the fourfold gospel. In this work, Matthew R. Crawford provides the first book-length treatment of the origins and use of the Canon Tables apparatus in any language. Part one begins by defining the Canon Tables as a paratextual device that orders the textual content of the fourfold gospel. It then considers the relation of the system to the prior work of Ammonius of Alexandria and the hermeneutical implications of reading a four-gospel codex equipped with the marginal apparatus. Part two transitions to the reception of the paratext in subsequent centuries by highlighting four case studies from different cultural and theological traditions, from Augustine of Hippo, who used the Canon Tables to develop the first ever theory of gospel composition, to a Syriac translator in the fifth century, to later monastic scholars in Ireland between the seventh and ninth centuries. Finally, from the eighth century onwards, Armenian commentators used the artistic adornment of the Canon Tables as a basis for contemplative meditation. These four case studies represent four different modes of using the Canon Tables as a paratext and illustrate the potential inherent in the Eusebian apparatus for engaging with the fourfold gospel in a variety of ways, from the philological to the theological to the visual.
PMH: Despite its presence in practically every manuscript of the four canonical gospels and in our standard edition, the Novum Testamentum Graece, for more than a century (from the 7th edition of 1908 through to the 28th edition in 2012), the Eusebian apparatus to the gospels – a paratextual system enabling readers to locate similar or parallel passages across the whole four gospel collection – has remained relatively unexplored by biblical scholars. The system comprises three features: a letter (from Eusebius to Carpianus) in which the system is explained; a set of ten Canon Tables that offer a visual and tabular method of ordering and presenting the relationships between the four gospels; and a running numbering system through each of the four gospels. In this brilliant book Crawford takes the reader on a tour of this complex of information. From its background in late-antique methods of ordering and presenting textual knowledge in tables, and the earlier work of the shadowy and little-known Ammonius – who first created a kind of physical manuscript synopsis of parallels to Matthew’s Gospel; we are introduced to one of Eusebius’ great achievements: ‘a tool that enables the reader to attend simultaneously to what is unique and what is common, without disrupting the integrity of any of the four’ (p. 121). In the second part of the book Crawford traces the reception of Eusebius’ work in Augustine – arguing convincingly that Augustine’s De consensus evangelistarum was written with the aid of the Eusebian system as it was incorporated into Jerome’s Vulgate; the Syriac Peshitta – which incorporated the relevant information at the foot of each page; the Hiberno-Latin exegetical tradition – four case studies of medieval Irish work on the gospels show the impact of the Eusebian apparatus; and the Armenian tradition – wherein medieval Armenian scholars offered a kind of mystical commentary on the artistically decorated canon tables. Beautiful plates of the presence of these features in the manuscripts abound. Some details could be disputed; but this book offers a wonderfully detailed introduction to the development and reception of the Eusebian Canon Tables, and superbly fills a major lacuna in the scholarly study of the fourfold Gospel canon. 

NB. See a previous post on an article that is included as a chapter in this book.

Another new book has recently been published (and is available on Open Access), edited by Alessandro Bausi, Bruno Reudenbach, and Hanna Wimmer: Canones: The Art of Harmony. The Canon Tables of the Four Gospels (de Gruyter, 2020).
Here is the publisher’s summary:
The so-called ‘Canon Tables’ of the Christian Gospels are an absolutely remarkable feature of the early, late antique, and medieval Christian manuscript cultures of East and West, the invention of which is commonly attributed to Eusebius and dated to first decades of the fourth century AD. Intended to host a technical device for structuring, organizing, and navigating the Four Gospels united in a single codex – and, in doing so, building upon and bringing to completion previous endeavours – the Canon Tables were apparently from the beginning a highly complex combination of text, numbers and images, that became an integral and fixed part of all the manuscripts containing the Four Gospels as Sacred Scripture of the Christians and can be seen as exemplary for the formation, development and spreading of a specific Christian manuscript culture across East and West AD 300 and 800.

In the footsteps of Carl Nordenfalk’s masterly publication of 1938 and few following contributions, this book offers an updated overview on the topic of ‘Canon Tables’ in a comparative perspective and with a precise look at their context of origin, their visual appearance, their meaning, function and their usage in different times, domains, and cultures.

PMH: I enjoyed the many many wonderful colour photos spread throughout the book. There is a biographical essay on Carl Nordenfalk (by Ewa Balicka-Witakowska). This is very interesting (his memoirs were published in Swedish – but it is always nice to have English summaries of learned contributions in Swedish!). Matthew Crawford has a chapter focusing on Codex Fuldensis. Jeremiah Coogan has a chapter entitled ‘Transmission and Transformation of the Eusebian Gospel Apparatus in Greek Medieval Manuscripts’. This is interesting as an attempt to evaluate what sort of impact the (acknowledged) tendency to error in reproducing numbers had on the usefulness of the apparatus. He does this by looking at Canon IX in a selection of Greek manuscripts (I’m not sure of the basis for the selection). Other chapters look at Irish Pocket Gospel Books, an Ethiopian example, a discussion of the use of Prefatory Images in early books, Early Medieval Gospel Illumination, the Gospels of Sainte-Croix of Poitiers, and some interesting studies in aspects of the Illuminations used in reproducing Canon tables. 


  1. But what about the game? Was it super-hnefetafl?

  2. "Canones" -- what a monster of a book! (In the best sense possible!) I've heard of trees so tall that one had to stop, rest, and resume before one could see the top. Now I've seen a book the erudition of which could be similarly described. Download it while you can, everyone!

    1. Just in early 2024, it is still available as a free download.